Designation of senior advocates: Supreme Court set to decide whether its 2017 judgment setting objective criteria requires revisiting

The Supreme Court, in 2017, had proposed the creation of an objective system for assessing advocates based on a 100 Points Index, along four distinct criteria.


THE Supreme Court is set to decide whether its 2017 judgment in Indira Jaising versus Secretary General, Supreme Court of India, laying down objective criteria to designate senior advocates, requires to be revisited given the experience gained over the last five years.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Manoj Mishra and Arvind Kumar is to begin hearing the matter on February 22. The bench said it would first decide the ‘issues’ arising out of the 2017 judgment, and only thereafter it would look into individual grievances arising from different high courts regarding the implementation of the said judgment.

The bench was hearing multiple applications and appeals either seeking modification or clarification of the judgment or/and appeals challenging the designations by some high courts.

The bench remarked that it was not possible for it to look into the individual grievance as it could not supervise the functioning of the high courts. Justice Kaul said that the bench would examine whether the 2017 judgment requires any tinkering.

Jaising, on whose petition the judgment was delivered in 2017, has filed an application against the frequent resort to a secret ballot while designating senior advocates and to provide for cut-off marks in the notice calling upon prospective applicants to apply for designation as senior advocates.

Jaising submitted that every high court was adopting a different procedure, and there should be some uniformity. She added that some advocates with full marks were voted out by the full court.

Senior advocate Puneet Bali, for the Punjab Bar, submitted that seven advocates with the highest marks were not designated.

Senior advocate Aman Lekhi, for the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association, flagged the issue of delay in completing the process of senior designation by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court on February 25 last year invited applications from aspirants to be conferred with the distinction of a senior advocate. However, the process is yet to be completed.

Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, submitted that the Union government would be filing an application over the course of the day, seeking modification of the 2017 judgment. In its application, the Union government has contended that designation as a senior advocate is the conferment of an ‘honour’.

The parameters upon which the judges would judge the performance of each lawyer can never be classified in four straitjacket classifications as mentioned in the 2017 judgment, the Union government claims. It thus wants the removal of the direction contemplating screening by the committee and also of the direction which says voting by secret ballot will not normally be resorted to by the full court. The government claims that because of this direction, there has been a widespread practice of advocates who have applied to be honoured campaigning, initially with the permanent committee and thereafter with all judges.

In 2017, on a petition by Jaising, the Supreme Court laid down objective criteria to designate senior advocates. This judgement introduced the creation of an objective system for assessing advocates based on a 100 Points Index. The index allocates 40 points to the proposition of law advanced, expertise and pro bono work, 15 points to published articles, and 25 points for interviews or interaction with the applicant advocate.

This assessment is to be done by a Permanent Committee of the court, which is headed by the Chief Justice of the court and consists of the two next senior-most judges of the court. The Attorney General for India, or the Advocate General of the state, in case of a high court, is also to be a member of the committee. The above four Members of the committee nominate another member of the Bar to be the fifth member of the committee.

While laying down these objective criteria, the court also stated that the guidelines enumerated may not be exhaustive of the matter and may require reconsideration by suitable additions/deletions in the light of the experience to be gained over a period of time.